The Problems with the Burdens of Judgment

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This paper challenges one of the main contributions of Political Liberalism (PL), namely the burdens of judgment (BoJ), on the grounds that it is superfluous to the project of excluding matters of the good from politics and it makes PL susceptible to a scepticism objection. From Rawls’s PL, we can extract two arguments for epistemic restraint in the public realm. The first is a moral argument based on the principles of fairness and reciprocity. The second is an epistemic argument derived from the idea of the insurmountability of BoJ. The second of these arguments, I contend, is superfluous for two reasons: (i) BoJ, as a descriptive claim cannot itself explain why citizens should uphold a form of toleration that requires them to honor their epistemic restraint in politics. (ii) The moral argument alone is sufficient to justify epistemic constraint in the public realm through the reasonable exercise of political power. Moreover, acceptance of the BoJ is incompatible with subscribing to a reasonable comprehensive doctrine (RCD) with a degree of certainty that is required to be convinced of any such doctrine. The relation between BoJ and scepticism has been addressed before but these thinkers assume that it is the implication of BoJ namely, reasonable disagreement that entails scepticism. This paper lays new sceptical challenges at the doorstep of PL and these new challenges focus on the very idea of the insurmountability of BoJ. Furthermore, it argues that scepticism is not an appropriate epistemic commitment for PL as it is incompatible with the aim of freestanding political conception of justice. Also, it is subversive of the purpose of an overlapping consensus because the idea underpinning an overlapping consensus is that citizens should not only appreciate liberal political principles as reasonable but they should also accept them as true on the basis of their own religious or philosophical reasons. Provided that BoJ entails scepticism, BoJ makes citizens’ religious and philosophical truth claims utterly irrelevant to the stability of society. Accordingly, I argue that the Rawlsian account of reasonableness must relinquish the epistemic component, BoJ; instead it should articulate how the moral component of reasonableness entails the principles of epistemic restraint in politics and acting from public reasons.
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